But those declines, while unusual, were small — measured in small fractions of a year. Researchers knew there would be a decline last year, but the sheer magnitude in the first six months left them reeling: The drop brought life expectancy to the lowest level since 2006. The last major decline was 2.9 years between 1942 and 1943, after the United States entered World War II, Dr. Arias said.
Researchers say Thursday’s numbers are important because they are a numeric representation of the magnitude of the current coronavirus crisis. They may not represent a trend that will continue in the future, but they speak volumes about the sheer scale of the suffering many American communities are experiencing in the present, like the Brightmoor neighborhood in Detroit, where the Rev. Semmeal Thomas, 60, pastor of the City Covenant Church, has been helping his congregation come to terms with grief.
He said about 10 people he was close to have died from Covid-19, including his 40-year-old niece, who had just married and was working on her Ph.D., and the wife of his close friend, who was in her 60s. A number of middle-aged people in his church have died too. Some had pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, but they were managing them.
“If Covid had not come, Ruthie Harris would still be here, Jackie would still be here, Michael would still be here, Taisha would still be here,” he said. “It has given us, in the African-American community, this tremendous sense of grief.”
Covid-19 hit Black and Hispanic Americans harder than white Americans. People in those first two groups who died from the virus were also more likely to be younger, slicing into the life expectancy figures more deeply, Dr. Bassett said. She said the coronavirus mortality rate for Black people between the ages of 35 and 44, for example, was ninefold greater than for white people in the same age group, according to data from last February through July.
Over all, the death rate for Black Americans with Covid-19 was almost two times higher than for white Americans as of late January, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the death rate for Hispanics was 2.3 times higher than for white Americans.
The 2.7-year drop in life expectancy for African-Americans from January through June of last year was the largest decline, followed by a 1.9-year drop for Hispanic Americans and a 0.8-year drop for white Americans.